Philosophical stance
6/21. Methodological question: what is the philosophical stance of your research?

In order to answer this question, write down:

The specific term for your research’s philosophical stance (with at least one reference) or one of the four following generic terms: qualitative objectivism, quantitative objectivism, qualitative subjectivism, and quantitative subjectivism.

Examples of answer to this question:



In the Idea Puzzle® software “philosophical stance” is defined as “a consistent set of ontological, epistemological, and methodological assumptions which contextualise the research methodologically”.



The philosophical stance is important for your research because it contextualises it methodologically. Philosophical stances are often referred to as “paradigms” (Burrell & Morgan, 1979; Lincoln & Guba, 2000), “positions” (e.g. Morgan & Smircich, 1980), “approaches” (e.g. Arbnor & Bjerke, 1997), and “perspectives” (e.g. Ackroyd & Fleetwood, 2000). According to Elster (1983) all sciences share the same generic method of inquiry. The main difference between them lies in the phenomena they research – inorganic matter, organic matter, social phenomena, or aesthetics – and the theories they develop about such phenomena.


Ontology refers to the nature of reality as either objective facts or subjective meanings. Epistemology, on the other hand, refers to the nature of knowledge as either fact-centric or meaning-centric. Methodology refers to the nature of the research strategy as either qualitative or quantitative and whether it is appropriate to study facts or meanings (e.g. Lincoln & Guba, 2000).


A philosophical stance (e.g. Morais, 2010) implies consistency in terms of ontological, epistemological, and methodological assumptions in your research. In particular, a focus on objective reality (ontology) is consistent with fact-centric knowledge (epistemology) and a qualitative or quantitative research strategy appropriate to study facts (methodology). By contrast, a focus on subjective reality is consistent with meaning-centric knowledge and a qualitative or quantitative research strategy appropriate to study meanings.


In spite of reality being both objective and subjective (e.g. Morais 2010) it is recommendable, for a matter of simplicity, that your research focuses only on the objective (facts) or subjective (meanings) side of your research topic. In the long run, it is possible to take different philosophical stances in different studies, in spite of claims that researchers’ values (axiology) change little (e.g. Burrell & Morgan, 1979). In this respect, Zaltman et al. (1982) argue that a researcher has fanatically-, firmly-, and weakly- held assumptions, but only the first ones are difficult to change. For that reason, it probably makes more sense to mention the philosophical stance of the research than that of the researcher.


In general, four main philosophical stances can be distinguished: qualitative objectivism, quantitative objectivism, qualitative subjectivism, and quantitative subjectivism. Beware, however, that other authors may propose different terms for these four generic philosophical stances (e.g. Burrell & Morgan, 1979; Lincoln & Guba, 2000) as well as variants of them (e.g. Ackroyd & Fleetwood, 2000; Arbnor & Bjerke, 1997; Morgan & Smircich, 1980).

Qualitative objectivism is appropriate to develop theory about facts, given its emphasis on description and explanation, and may occasionally test theory. Quantitative objectivism is appropriate to test theory about facts, given its emphasis on measurement and prediction, and may occasionally develop theory. Qualitative subjectivism and quantitative subjectivism have the same emphasis as qualitative objectivism and quantitative objectivism, respectively, but focus on meanings and not facts. Each philosophical stance requires the adoption of specific research strategies which, in turn, require certain data collection techniques, data analysis techniques, and tactics in order to meet the respective scientific quality criteria (Creswell, 2013).

1.     Confirm the philosophical stance which is adopted by streams of thought on your research topic;
2.     Beware that reality is both objective and subjective no matter the phenomenon being researched, but your research is simpler by only focusing on facts or meanings;
3.     Beware that each philosophical stance implies the adoption of certain research strategies, data collection techniques, data analysis techniques, and tactics in order to meet scientific quality criteria; 
4.     Beware that adopting one philosophical stance is more viable in terms of time and other resources than several philosophical stances simultaneously.

1.     Ackroyd, S., & Fleetwood, S. (2000). Realist perspectives on management and organisations. London, UK: Routledge.
2.     Arbnor, I., & Bjerke, B. (1997). Methodology for creating business knowledge (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.   
3.     Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. (1979). Sociological paradigms and organizational analysis. London, UK: Heinemann.
4.     Creswell, J. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (4th edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
5.     Elster, J. (1983). Explaining technical change: A case study in the philosophy of science. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
.     Lincoln, Y., & Guba, E. (2000). Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions, and emerging confluences. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.) The handbook of qualitative research (2nd edition) (pp. 163-188). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
.     Morais, R. (2010). Scientific method. In A. Mills, G. Durepos, & E. Wiebe (Eds.) Encyclopedia of case study research (Vol. 2, pp. 840-842). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
.     Morais, R. (2011). Critical realism and case studies in international business research. In R. Piekkari, & C. Welch (Eds.) Rethinking the case study approach in international business and management research (pp. 63-84). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing. 
.     Morgan, G., & Smircich, L. (1980). The case for qualitative research, Academy of Research Review, 5(4), 491-500.
10.   Zaltman, G., LeMasters, K., & Heffring, M. (1982). Being interesting. In G. Zaltman, K. LeMasters & M. Heffring (Eds.) Theory construction in marketing: Some thoughts on thinking (pp. 25-44). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.